Last Friday, I found myself driving to Boulder in the morning dark with snow coming down in all directions. I did my best to maintain calm, after all I was the one who assured everyone that we would soldier on with the Backyard Collective. Everyone, including five brave souls from Osprey who were literally going the extra mile, by traveling up from Cortez, to join us in rebuilding Boulder trails.
One day prior it was 70º and sunny. Boulder County Parks & Open Space Volunteer Coordinator Fletcher Jacobs and I toured our planned worksite and made a pact after checking the forecast for the umpteenth time: despite the forecasted cold & wet weather, the event was a go. As Fletcher put it, "We're there if you're there." I said yes and now…well now it was snowing with an anticipated high temperature of 43º.
Aside from the plummeting temperatures, there were other challenging factors at play. In the previous 48 hours we changed worksite locations, project specifics, and arranged an alternate lunch site under cover, each decision setting off a cascade of communiques.
This flurry of emails went out to our point people at Osprey Packs, Backpacker's Pantry, Sea To Summit, Verde PR, Outdoor Industry Association, La Sportiva, Nite Ize, Conservation Colorado, Access Fund and our event parters at Colorado Mountain Club filling up their inboxes. Yes, we are doing this, at a new location, here's directions. Here are better directions.
Being on the ground in Boulder provided a closer look at the destruction of the September floods which left thousands of residents displaced, damaged homes and forced the closure of roads and over 119 miles of area trails. Three weeks later, many of the Boulder County trails remain closed and inaccessible for residents. Among the closed was the Carolyn Holmberg Preserve at Rock Creek, much loved habitat enjoyed by tens of thousands of annual visitors. It was Thursday afternoon when Fletcher and I made the call to move our project to this site after ensuring that we had ample materials and safe access.
What does it mean to rebuild trails in the face of so much need? When things get tough, where do you go? How do you restore balance in your life? I suspect that many of us would share similar answers.
As I drove up to the worksite, I couldn't help but wonder how many folks we could expect in freezing temperatures: 15? 25? 40 would be awesome. My answer soon came in the form of colorful parkas, knit hats, gloved hands and huge grins. By 9 a.m. nearly 50 volunteers arrived ready to take action rebuilding trails that serve as refuge for Boulder community visitors.
The truth is that it's the volunteers who provide the secret sauce of the Backyard Collective. We work with grantees and community partners to identify projects, invite our member companies' employees out for a day of trail stewardship and ensure that there are tools, instruction and sufficient work; It is the energy and cooperative spirit of those that show up that make the day memorable. The strength of their connections with the land, each other and with the folks working on the front lines to preserve wild places are what define the day's success.
After starting in a wintery mix of early morning weather, temperatures rose and we even saw a little sunshine before a new drizzle set it. Our volunteers put their tools to good work rebuilding 1000 feet of trail, more than double the forecasted number, with expert guidance from the Boulder County Parks team.
Volunteers then caravanned to our makeshift lunch & Volunteer Fair location hosted by the Boulder Recycling Center. There they were greeted by food as well as representatives from the Access Fund, Conservation Colorado, Land & Water Conservation Fund and Colorado Mountain Club ready to share their latest success stories and continued pursuits.
It was early 2013 when we decided that the Backyard Collective would begin in California and culminate Colorado. Last week, our partners at the Boulder County Parks & Open Space, the Colorado Mountain Club and each one of our Backyard Collective volunteers, embodied the inspirational spirit of our collective commitment to conservation and to each other. After a season of watching our membership in action across eight locations, my feeling of gratitude and awe continues.
Photos courtesy of Josh Kuhn and Elaine Sims.